What is mindfulness? 12 January 2022 Can we ‘think’ our way to better health? This mind-body connection has long been speculated through philosophy, psychology, and medicine. These days, meditative practices such as mindfulness are widely recognised as a form of ‘mind-body medicine’ that can help with the management of chronic conditions including diabetes, mental health conditions and blood pressure. Research has revealed our brains to be neuroplastic. That means they are not fixed, but are ever-changing and responsive. Practicing mindfulness is one way of adapting our brains. Mindfulness involves intentionally focussing one’s attention on the present moment. Mindfulness can be applied to any daily activity, such as breathing and eating, or it can be undertaken as a more structured form of regular mental training. Through mindfulness, you can gain greater control over your own thoughts and emotions. Practicing mindfulness can lead to changes in areas of the brain responsible for regulating emotions, attention, pain processing, and stress response. Studies have also found that these effects remain even after completing the mindfulness activity, which suggests it mindfulness can cause long-lasting changes in the brain to reap long-term benefits. Current research is also looking into the relationship between mindfulness and managing blood glucose levels. If you’d like to try implementing mindfulness in your daily life, psychologist Dr. Adriana Ventura recommends a “4-step mindfulness practice for diabetes distress”: Recognising your emotions: Rather than reacting to situations in an emotional way, try to recognise how you are feeling without judgement. By doing so, we can enhance our awareness of the situation in the moment. It is also helpful to name the emotion, for example: “I am feeling overwhelmed by my condition.” Allowing your emotions to be: This does not mean you must like the situation, but if you can accept it you are less likely to try and supress or ignore complex feelings (which only exacerbates your stress). By softening our mental resistance to a situation, we can feel more at ease with the emotions experienced. Investigating the emotions: After recognising and allowing the emotions, you can begin to address them by questioning why you may be feeling a certain way. By identifying a cause, you can begin to identify your own needs and choose a conscious response rather than an unhelpful reaction. Non-identifying: “You are not your emotions nor your thoughts.” You are the observer, aware of your emotions and thoughts but knowing that they do not define you. This simple realisation enables freedom and peace to move your attention from negative thoughts to positive actions. Key Points Mindfulness is the conscious act of focussing on the current moment, resulting in an awareness of one’s self and surroundings. Studies show that mindfulness helps reduce stress, improve positive behaviours, and may assist with pain management and glycaemic control. Mindfulness practices act on various regions of the brain responsible for emotional, physical, and psychological regulation. The benefits of regular mindfulness practices can be long-lasting and helpful in managing chronic health conditions.